The King Messiah Trump


If all his “loyalty” measures weren’t offensive enough, President Donald J. Trump, our Tweeter-in-Chief, has now, well recently, also posted on his favorite social media site a bit of grand theological-political flattery from Wayne Allyn Root, a failed libertarian presidential candidate and fridge purveyor of exotic conspiracy theories.

“President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world…and the Jewish people in Israel love him….”

“….like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God… But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore.”

That’s right: If you’ve been asleep for a week, our president retweeted that he was king of Israel, the second coming of God.

Faculty theology aside, this was a novel event, even for Trump, our most narcissistic of presidents. Granted, Americans have had a tendency to think highly of our chief executives and have, in our civil religion, deified a few (think the famous painting of the Apotheosis of Washington in the Capitol building or the Jesus imagery associated with Lincoln’s death.)

But the idea of Trump as the messianic king of Israel goes far beyond what we normally expect of American civil religion. It is, one might say, a new Jewish – and Christian – heresy. Even for the Chosen One.

Within Jewish tradition, it is more accurate to speak of a complex of messianic beliefs, hopes, speculations and dreams than of a unified view of the messianic idea. In the discussions and explanations collected in the rabbinic corpus, as their thoughts turned from difficult political realities, their hopes for the restoration of national sovereignty in the Land of Israel was pushed into the realm of eschatology, where it mingled with all sorts of utopian and supernatural speculations.

The significance of redemption ranged from hope for the ingathering of the exile to the Land of Israel, restoration of the Davidic dynasty and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, to universal knowledge of God, to Jewish sovereignty over the world. The kabbalistic speculations of the 16th century envisioned a radical perfection of the cosmos that had been damaged at the very moment of creation. Liberal Jews, myself among them, have hoped to build a messianic age where the ethical teachings of Judaism would become actualized in the world, shaping and becoming embodied in social and political institutions.

I can think of nowhere in the Jewish tradition, however, that comes close to suggesting someone like Donald J. Trump as a messianic figure.

One wonders what Trump in his messianic self-regard will say and do when the majority of American Jews again fail to see the light. His light. Will he lament those American Jews who refuse to know and love their leader, despite all of his good works? Will he continue to complain, as they go to the polls, of their disloyalty to him? Will he accuse their leaders of plotting against him? It is, to be sure, hard to imagine the Donald uttering “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And, in the wake of such self-deification, what will his loyal followers do? We will, sadly, not be privy to what the Jewish day school educated son-in-law discusses with his wife about the complexities of the messianic idea in Judaism. But we can await the response of the members of other “loyal” Republican Jews, such as those who applauded Trump in Las Vegas when he referred to Benjamin Netanyahu as “their prime minister” and defended him again as recently as this week after he attacked Jews for “great disloyalty” for their failure to fall in line with his attacks on two Muslim members of Congress. I imagine they will continue to cite some brilliant Talmudic pilpul arguing that the president did not say what he said and in any event he is still “good for the Jews.” After all, he tweeted so himself.

One wonders, too, about Trump’s lauded evangelical base. Will they, who, unlike the Jews, await a Second Coming, remain faithful to their savior, a poor Jew from a backwater town in Galilee? Or will they chose to bow down to their modern-day Nero?

In the meantime, American Jews can rest assured knowing that messiahs have been proclaimed before. We remember that from time to time in Jewish history messianic ferment did flare up. Adventurers and pretenders arose, often from the margins of Jewish society, announcing the dawn of the redemption, and sometimes, having aroused the deep-rooted yearning for political independence and spiritual completion, generating significant spiritual and social agitation.

It is recorded that the great Sage Rabbi Yohanan Ben-Zakai used to say: “If you have a sapling in your hand and they tell you ‘the messiah is coming!’ first plant the sapling and then go to greet him.” All Americans, gentile and Jew, ought to heed his wise counsel.

We will all sit beneath the shade of that sapling tree long before the King Messiah Trump saves any of us.

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